Ending a “bumpy but exhilarating” four years as the reader-advocate at the New York Times, Margaret Sullivan presents a worrisome forecast not only for The Times but, by inference, for the traditional journalism business model as many of us have known it.
“These days … The Times seems like a digital media company that happens to put out a newspaper”, Ms. Sullivan laments. “Over the past four years it has been scrambling to find a sustainable business model to support its journalistic ambitions.”
“In dealing with Facebook and other platforms and potential partners whose businesses revolve around algorithms, it’s critical that the paper makes sure the news the readers see is driven by the judgment of editors concerned about journalism, not business-driven formulas that may only reinforce prejudices.”
Ms. Sullivan’s recommendations for The Times future success appear to be relevant for many legacy media as well. They include:
. “As The Times tries to gain as much digital readership as possible, it needs to keep in mind that accuracy and fairness are paramount… Slow it down a little for credibility’s sake.
. “Keep clickbait at bay. In the push for digital traffic, The Times is now publishing articles it never would have touched before in order to stay part of a conversation that’s taking place on social media and read on smart phones. [By extension, this could also include “sponsored content” inserts produced by Russian and Chinese publishers.]
. “Keep accountability and watchdog journalism front and center. Dean Baquet’s Times is one that emphasizes investigative work. That should always be a top priority and nothing should be allowed to weaken it.”
Sadly, Ms. Sullivan’s farewell column brings to mind the departure of her predecessor Arthur Brisbane who in August of 2012 left the Public Editor position with parting negative comments.
Full disclosure: I read the print version of The New York Times daily — and visit the digital version occasionally between print editions.